Bracing for Multiple-Day Outages, Another California City Advances Microgrid Project

Nov. 3, 2020
Camarillo, California, is moving ahead with microgrid projects at five key city facilities in a move aimed at bolstering reliability while lowering electricity costs.

Another California community is moving ahead with a microgrid project, this one the city of Camarillo, which plans microgrids at five key city facilities in a move aimed at bolstering reliability while lowering electricity costs.

Four of the projects include backup diesel generators coupled with solar and battery storage. One project  includes only solar and storage. Combined, the projects include about 4 MW of solar, 4.2 MWh of storage, 500 kW of new diesel capacity to go with 1.4 MW of existing diesel at a cost of $13 million.

The sites are city hall, a police station, a wastewater treatment plant, a library and the public work’s yard.

The solar+storage systems will keep the sites online during outages that last up to two hours, with the diesel generators onhand for extended outages, according to the Clean Coalition, a non-profit that conducted a feasibility study for the city.

“The study made it clear that hybrid solar microgrids are not only feasible but also economically viable,” Greg Ramirez, Camarillo city manager, said. “Implementing these cost-effective hybrid solutions represents a big step toward meeting both city and regional sustainability goals.”

Camarillo is one of many

Camarillo is one of several government entities in California pursuing microgrid projects, a trend driven by wildfire-related power shutoffs, sustainability goals and a desire to lower energy costs. Santa Barbara is installing six microgrids for its school. McKinleyville is building a $2 million microgrid at a wastewater treatment plant in a contract with Ameresco. The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California plans to build microgrids at three water treatment plants and a pumping station. Sonoma Valley Unified School District has a unique front-of-the-meter microgrid project underway. They are among several California cities, tribal entities and school districts in various stages of microgrid development.

A city of 65,000 near Los Angeles, Camarillo in early 2018 began exploring adding diesel generators at three of the facilities with an eye on boosting reliability at critical facilities. The city’s police station and wastewater treatment plant already had backup diesel units.

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However, in mid-2019, the city council decided to see if solar and battery storage could be used at the five sites as an alternative to the diesel generators.

In the last five years, the longest outage at one of the facilities lasted 21 hours and the second longest outage was about five hours, Camarillo city staff said Oct. 28 at a meeting when the city council voted to move forward with the projects.  

Overall, there were 53 outages that lasted an hour on average. Staff said future outages will likely be longer, potentially up to days because of wildfires, floods, earthquakes and planned utility public safety shutoffs.

The Clean Coalition estimates the microgrids will reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the five sites by about 88%.

Over the 30-year life of the projects, the microgrids are expected to achieve zero net energy and yield utility bill savings through reduced demand and energy charges, the Clean Coalition said. The savings will depend on which financing option the city chooses: a city-owned model or a power purchase agreement, according to the organization.

The solar systems were sized to provide 150% of average daily load. The wastewater treatment plant, for example, would have 2.6 MW of solar and 2.25 MWh of battery storage to go with its existing diesel generator. The infrastructure would cost about $7.7 million, according to the Clean Coalition.

Possible FEMA funding for microgrid project

Looking ahead, the city council will have to decide if the city should pay for and own the microgrids itself or use a power purchase agreement model.

Generally, the PPA model would be less expensive for the city, partly because the city cannot take advantage of federal investment tax credits for the facilities.

However, the city plans to apply for a grant from FEMA that could cover up to 75% of the project’s capital cost.

The council directed city staff to pursue the grant from FEMA, which in August announced a $500 million grant program for infrastructure like microgrids that can reduce disaster risks. 

FEMA is expected to announce grant winners next summer, according to city staff.

The city may seek to take advantage of other grant opportunities as well.

City staff is slated to return to the city council in November with more refined cost estimates for the microgrid projects. 

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About the Author

Ethan Howland

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